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Catch him while you can!

Last week I finally visited the ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in Drawing’ exhibition at the National Museum & Art Gallery in Cardiff and it just so happened I was visiting on the actual day of the 500th anniversary of his death.

To mark the anniversary art galleries across the UK from Cardiff to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester (just to name a few) held a simultaneous exhibition of some of his fascinating work.

As I walked into the building I was met straight away with the sight of a large banner advertising the exhibition, showing just a glimpse of one of the pieces that I soon found out was on display. What became evident to me almost immediately was that our native language was also used (and I’d soon see more of this throughout the entire exhibition). I feel the National Museum & Art Gallery value heritage and encourage visitors to be curious about our past culture. In the gift shop you’ll find a host of treasures giving a nod to Wales, from traditional gifts such as Welsh love spoons, to Welsh language books.

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The exhibition itself was situated in a somewhat small room off from the main gallery and was guarded carefully by a member of staff. Tickets had to be bought before-hand in the gift shop and punched before you could enter (adult tickets £5, £4 concession, children free). Although I’m personally happy to support educational public spaces such as libraries, museums and art galleries, I wondered if some people may be put off by the price, particularly given the fact that we were given a limit of half an hour to view the pieces. That being said, I feel the majority of the visitors to this exhibition understood that to see first-hand some of da Vinci’s work is a rare opportunity. I should also mention that purchasing a ticket in Cardiff meant half price off your ticket if you visited Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

The layout of the exhibition was fairly well thought-out given the slightly cramped space and it was nice to see ‘extras’ such as a corner dedicated to books on da Vinci, an interactive board and activity booklets for children (or big kids like me!). I feel like the exhibition was curated for a wide range of ages, though perhaps not very young children.

Whilst we were there we encountered a group of school children enthusiastically trying to re-create some of da Vinci’s pieces in their sketchbooks and I liked the fact that they were free to pick up magnifiers and activity booklets (though the magnifiers were so badly scratched it did very little to help see the pieces clearer). However, as there were a lot of people in the room it was very crowded and small queues had begun to form around paintings. I feel it would have been better for large groups to have been able to book in advance to avoid this.

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The free booklet managed to pack in several suggested activities, whilst also revealing a bit about da Vinci and the way in which he worked. I felt this was a good way to get children participating in art and engaging with the exhibition. The reverse side of the booklet was in Welsh.

In addition to the pieces on the walls there were two plinths, one with a piece showing a technique da Vinci used, which was described in the information board below. I feel there was the right amount of information throughout the exhibition, with small descriptions next to each piece, but larger boards giving more in-depth details, such as da Vinci’s background and most interesting to me, the materials he used.

Although the 12 nationwide exhibitions have now finished it’s not too late to see da Vinci’s precious works. From the 24th of May to the 13th of October over 200 of da Vinci’s drawings will go on display at The Queens Gallery (link).

Overall, whilst things were a little cramped, I’m glad I saw this exhibition. I feel as a former art student (though still a student in some ways as we never stop learning) this was one exhibition I shouldn’t miss.

 

 

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Monthly Review: Perspective & Composition

Last week I talked a bit about the online art course I’ve started and how one unit had been focusing on perspective (link). The unit prompted me to dig a bit deeper into the subject and today I’ll be reviewing the book ‘Perspective & Composition’.

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Full title: Essential Guide to Drawing; Perspective & Composition

Author: Barrington Barber

Price: £4.99 – £23

Where to buy: WaterstonesBook Depository, Amazon, ebay

About: An instructional guide to the ‘rules’ of perspective and composition, with step-by-step exercises.

I first came across Barrington Barber’s instructional drawing books when I was a teenager and used to lap up the art books in The Works. Although this particular book claims to be ‘practical and inspirational’ I’d argue that the former is at least true! As someone who loves step-by-step instructions both written and with visuals, I do like Barber’s books. However, this more methodical, instructional tone doesn’t exactly get you fired up with creative ideas. The covers of Barber’s books tend to be quite tame with a ‘school’ vibe about them and the interior looks almost text-booky. However, the contents is quality.

The layout is logical, with a clear font, sub-titles and diagrams so is good for all kinds of learners, be they visual or more text-based. There are also mini projects throughout to ensure you understand the concepts being explained so there’s a good balance of theory and practical.

I think this book would be best suited to art students, particularly around GCSE and would be useful in a classroom or tuition setting. Although, it would also be useful for those teaching themselves. One section mentions ‘Compositions by Master Artists’, which could potentially encourage further research and study.

Another thing I like about this book is that although it’s short it tries to keep the users interest by covering different ways of using perspective, for example when drawing people or objects in addition to just landscapes and scenes.

Although this book wouldn’t encourage me to purposely seek out any more of Barber’s books I did take something away from it and it’s worth a read if you’re really struggling with the concept of perspective. For me, the best way to learn about perspective is to practice, practice, practice and learn to trust your eyes; draw what you see, not what you think you should see.

Monthly Review: Making Handmade Books

Last week I showed you some ways to use up your leftover wrapping paper from Christmas, including how to make a boring notebook look a little more interesting by covering it with paper. It got me thinking about how over the years I’ve liked to create my own books and folders to suit my needs (in fact I’ve only just recycled the planner I constructed two years ago; I made it to suit everything I needed, including a to-do section,a shopping list section,a notes section,an emergency contacts section,a day-by-day plan section, and even an inspiration section for when I was low and in need of focus). As someone who loves to work things out and create my own patterns (it’s the asperger’s in me! I love to construct/deconstruct things!) I’ve spent many hours working out measurements for folders,books and boxes. However, sometimes a little inspiration is useful in creating new designs, and for those who aren’t sure where to begin it’s good to have some step-by-step instructions along with lots of visuals. In my second year of university we had an exceptionally brief workshop on bookmaking, which actually set me off on the joy of creating my own books and folders. In the workshop a book was recommended and that’s the book I’ll be reviewing today: Making Handmade Books, by Alisa Golden.

Full title: Making Handmade Books 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms

Author: Alisa Golden

Price: £9 – £20

Where to buy: Waterstones, BookDepository, Amazon, Ebay

Brief description: Step-by-step instructions along with a generous helping of visuals showing you how to create many different books, wallets, folders and more.

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The Good

For me the best feature of this book is the use of images. I benefit greatly from being shown visually what to do in addition to just being told/given written instructions so this book is great for both text-based learners as well as more visual learners. However, not every single step is shown, just ones that the author deems most in need of extra explanation.

The second thing I like about this book is the layout. Each project is divided clearly, with a bold title for each. Each step is also clearly numbered and diagrams are labelled. I feel this approach is very useful for those who struggle to follow instructions, as it allows you to break your project up into smaller bits, allowing you to focus on one step at a time.

Another thing I like about this book is that you get more than you may have initially expected. You learn not only how to construct some interesting books/folders etc but you also find yourself discovering some unique artists. As someone who enjoys learning, I read the ‘Artist’s Bio’s’ section with curiosity. I feel this would also be useful for art and design students who may wish to research the artists further.

Continuing with the topic of ‘extras’ this book is full of them! In addition to the bio’s the book also includes several pages dedicated to ‘Ideas & Concepts’, complete with inspiring images and stories of interesting collaborations.

The not-so-good

Whilst the book provides lots of information and numbered steps to guide you through each stage of your project, some designs are particularly difficult. The majority would be too complex for children, which is why I feel this book is aimed at adults and older teenagers. This is a foray into the world of serious bookmaking as an art form, rather than a weekend project to occupy children. I admit that some of the designs put me off as it was evident that a lot of time and concentration would be needed and the diagrams themselves were very complex (for example the ‘Tetra-Tetra Flexagon’).

The only other potentially negative point is the need for specific tools for some of the projects. For example, linen tape, awl, certain boards.

Conclusion

Personally, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a serious interest in bookmaking. I think it’s best suited to adults and older teenagers, particularly those on design courses or who have a love for making and creativity. I find myself revisiting this book on regular occasions and for myself it has been worth every penny. The price is reasonable and it can be found easily.

 

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Monthly review; Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Title: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Authors/illustrator: Brian Froud, Ari Berk

Price: From £8 – £160 first edition

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, ebay, Waterstones

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This is one of my most treasured Froud books in my collection, possibly because it really stands out from the others. What makes this book so unique is the interaction the reader has with it. Each page is filled with Froud’s distinctive fairy illustrations, but also draws the reader/viewer in by having all sorts of interesting attachments. From ‘handwritten’ pull-out letters, to envelopes containing quaint surprises, this book encourages exploration by the reader, involving another sense (touch) rather than the usual individual sense of sight (though I must admit I’m a fan of the smell of new or very old books…I know I’m not alone in this!).

As with many of Froud’s book the creativity and attempt at authenticity doesn’t stop with the artwork. The text itself could be argued to be a work of art in itself. Throughout we’re treated to a range of interesting fonts, from beautiful italic handwriting to calligraphy-style work. One thing that Froud never fails to do is draw his audience in. It’s almost as if he believes these wonderful scenarios and worlds he imagines. I love the dedication to making the book and backstory seem as authentic as possible, it shows Froud’s utter enthusiasm for his work.

Much like his other books the target age for this book is debatable. Whilst fairies and similar subjects are often thought of as geared more towards children, Froud’s work always seems to fall into this ageless space. I can imagine children and adults alike enjoying this hands-on book. That being said, for the very reason that it is hands-on this book isn’t suitable for very young children as delicate pull-outs may be easily torn/damaged. Some understanding and prior-knowledge is also needed to understand the basis of this book. Many adults will be familiar with the true story of the girls who, in 1917, took ‘real’ photographs of fairies in Cottingley, England (which were later exposed as being fake). The book is intended to be a ‘scrapbook’ of the girl in the famous photograph, named Angelica Cottington. As mentioned in last month’s review of Froud’s ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, whist wonderfully elaborate the story can be difficult to follow, particularly for younger readers. For this reason I’d recommend this book for older teenagers on wards, however I’m sure children would love to be shown the quirky illustrations and would delight in the pull-outs being demonstrated (do take note that some fairy poses are quite cheeky though! Parents may want to flip through and judge for themselves first).

Price-wise this book is affordable and I personally feel that the joy I get from revisiting this book again and again is worth every penny paid. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in illustration, other worlds, and those young at heart.

 

TIP: If you like this book there are other Lady Cottington books, which are available in Waterstones. You can see the whole collection on their website here: link

Quick Review: Grayson Perry

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Title: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever

Author: Grayson Perry

Price: £9.49 – £17.00 (RRP £16.99)

Thanks to a vibrant red cover and distinctive typography this book won’t go unnoticed on a shelf! The title itself draws interest, and was in fact the title given by Perry to one of his exhibitions, which ran from the 8th June to the 10th of September at the Serpentine Gallery last year. The synopsis on the inner cover expresses Perry’s commendable belief that ‘ art shouldn’t be an exclusive club for people who ‘get’ it, but for everyone’. However, it must be said that in his introduction (which is more a small essay) his references to publications, artists, and exhibitions, would probably bewilder anyone other than those already holding a keen interest in art, rather than your ‘average Joe’, something which Matt Breen of Time Out firmly believes Perry isn’t: ‘What really undermines all his elitism-versus-populism, high-versus-low, posh-versus-common prevaricating is a strong sense that, deep down, he wishes he was still the un-pigeonhole-able outsider’ [Full article] and also:  ‘Perry is now a fully-paid member of the establishment. Power, popularity: whatever you want to call it, he has it’. That may be so, but one thing is undeniable: Perry’s work is full of narrative and symbolism. It’s not only his work that conveys the thought behind his work, but also his very honest, analytical introduction. There is definitely passion fuelling his work.

In addition to an introduction from Perry there’s a contribution from Sandy Toksvig, who appeared on The Graham Norton show with Perry back in 2016. Her contribution further emphasises the political tone of the exhibition/book, delivered in an interesting, story-like narrative.

From the very beginning of the book you feel as though you’re immersed in the sketchbook of Perry, with doodles and illustrations littering the cover. What’s nice is that as well as high quality images of his finished work further in the book, you’re first granted a peek in to Perry’s creative and thought process, with annotations revealing snippets of thoughts. A note of warning to parents though, this book does contain some graphic sketches, so isn’t suitable for children. That being said, Grayson fearlessly and effectively confronts a subject close to his heart: masculinity, just one of the many issues covered in his work.

The book is very image-heavy, which could be argued to be apt as the art takes centre stage to speak for itself.  However, each piece does come with an unassuming commentary, many of which divulge the interesting stories detailing the events/thoughts that lead to their creation.

The pieces themselves are wonderfully diverse, with a variety of mediums, from tapestry and ironwork to more traditional mediums. It’s interesting to see Perry’s sketches coming to life and serving their purpose: to create thought.

Final verdict Obviously a book will never compare to actually attending an exhibition, but I found this interesting, thought-provoking, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Perry, or even just symbolism and politics in art.

You can find this book on Amazon: link

Ebay: link

Book Depository: link

 

Monthly mini review: Derwent pastel pencil set

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Product name: Derwent Pastel Collection

Price: £16.00 – £53.98 (for 24 piece set)

Rating: 3.5/5

About: A tin containing 24 pieces: 8 conté-esque hard sticks, 14 pastel pencils, 1 sharpener, 1 putty rubbergood

  • If, like me, you tend to use a lot of detail then pastel pencils are for you! I found I had much more control than when using stick pastels and was able to do finer details.
  • Whilst pastels can be quite mucky, the beauty of these pencils is that they leave your hands clean.

 

notso

  • This set can be pricey, and prices range hugely depending where you look.
  • Availability of individual/replacement pencils can be limited. My local hobbycraft didn’t stock them.
  • One thing I feel would make the set more complete is a blending stump.
  • Not suitable for large areas.

 

conclude This set gave me an excuse to get stuck in to a medium I don’t use of a regular basis. It’s suited to those who’ve dabbled, but want to gain more experience in this medium, and those who have struggled with larger pastel sticks. This set is great for detail enthusiasts, rather than those who prefer to work on a larger scale, and more for those with a real interest in art as opposed to being something you drag out on a rainy day for the kids. Although not my favourite medium, I enjoyed experimenting, and plan to use them again.

ELLIE
‘Thirsty work’

 

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Osnir Narcizo ‘Heisenberg’

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Hannah (Melomiku)  ‘Tobi the Recon/Spy’

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Susan Mitchell – ‘Work in progress’

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Monthly review: Derwent Graphitint pencils

After postponing this review it’s finally here! The promised Graphitint review. Here’s what you need to know…

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Product name: Derwent Graphitint 12 Tinted graphite pencils

Price: £5 (without postage) – £20.96

Rating: 4/5

About: A set of 12 tinted graphite pencils which can be used dry as you would a pencil/watercolour pencil, as well as brushed over with water to ‘soften’. They give a subtle colour finish.

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I was so excited to try these out, not knowing quite what to expect;  would these handle like graphite pencils? How would I get tone like I would from B-6B? I was keen to get stuck in, and they didn’t disappoint, though did take some getting used to. I initially made the mistake of setting out using them as I would normal graphite pencils, but these are something different entirely. I soon realised that these pencils are a medium all of their own; not quite a watercolour pencil, not quite a graphite pencil, and like when you’re just starting out with a new medium these need a little getting used to and a little practise.

Due to cost I opted for the set of 12 (having just given in to the temptation of Derwent’s Inktense watercolour pencils)  and rather than feeling as though I was limited by not having the available range of 24 colours, I came to realise it was the very fact that I had a limited palette that put me in the right direction in terms of use. When using graphite pencil I focus on tone, when using colour mediums to depict reality I try to get the colour as close to reality as possible, but this is a mistake when using this medium. Because these pencils offer only a tint, and therefore limit your ability to depict the colour of the animal/object in reality, you will not achieve exact likeness, and therefore must treat these as what they are: a combination between graphite and watercolour pencil – bear colour in mind, but also bear tone in mind. It really is about not boxing yourself in to think of these as one medium with one set of rules. This is a medium with which two set of rules apply. To be successful you have to get in to this mind-set.

Whilst some of the characteristics are the same as graphite pencils, blending is not one. This is where the medium crosses over into watercolour pencil territory. Forget attempting to use a blending stump or your fingers, as these can only be blended using water. They have a harder point than I had expected, which actually makes them more economical than Derwent’s watercolour pencils, which, due to softness wore down very quickly.good bits

  • Portable
  • Economical
  • Unique
  • Good for detailed work

notso

  • Take some getting used to
  • I very much missed white in the 12 pack (though this is available individually)
  • Generally pricey (though in my opinion it’s not worth scrimping on materials and these are good quality)
  • Availability of individual colours (so far only found on derwentart.com)

 

concludePersonally I’d buy these again as I found them quite unique. However, it’s worth looking around a bit first as price can vary drastically. Availability of sets is an issue, though The Range seem to be the best high street store for this, offering sets of 6,12 and 24. I feel these are more suited to those with a real interest in art and mediums, as opposed to simply for use in colouring in for example.

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Floral inspiration

 

Last week I brought you a review of the wonderful temporary exhibition currently at The National Museum & Art Gallery in Cardiff: ‘Nature’s Song; Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings‘. Feeling inspired by the experience I decided to have a rummage around the internet to find other appreciators of this delicate art genre, who have created work reminiscent of the traditional style. I unearthed some superb examples (please visit artist online gallery for full-size images) here are my top 3…

1‘Chinese Hibiscus’ by Nikole Lowe of Nikole Lowe Paintings on Etsy.

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I love the delicacy of this piece, something which was really evident in the original 16th century work on display at the exhibition. What makes this piece really special is the fact that Nikole has used Chinese paints on rice paper, in a nod to tradition. Her Etsy shop is full of must-see original paintings, mostly dedicated to this particular style. You’ll even find an adult colouring book and an interesting video of Nikole at work.

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2I came across Claudia Hahn’s work on Deviantart and was mesmerised by her bright and soulful depictions of nature. Her gallery is bursting with inspiring artwork, including this Peony painting done entirely with beetroot juice and tea!

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3I love how Etsy shop owner Vartus Varadian has utilised her talent as a form of meditation (she describes how she took up Chinese brush painting in response to illness) as well as making this art form accessible to all. Her work is available in card form, is affordable, and is a joy to look at.

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Recently I joined an art group run by Mind,  and decided it was the perfect opportunity to experiment with my own Chinese art-inspired piece. I often use photographs as a reference, but with such a limited slot of time this proved to be an exercise in improvisation as well as observation. Having completed the base drawing and graphite sections during the session, I applied colour from memory later on, using Inktense watercolour pencils. In my initial review of these pencils I was impressed with the delivery of the promised colour intensity, but it took this small painting to really make me realise that these pencils really come into their own when diluted.

 

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With Mother’s day around the corner, I thought it would be a nice idea to turn my little drawing/painting into a card, and here’s what I came up with…

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A change of schedule. You’ve got to see this…

A bit of a change in schedule with this month’s review! I’ve pushed the promised Graphitint review back until next month (I was surprised by how they handled – more next month) to allow you plenty of time to visit this inspiring exhibition:

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What: Nature’s Song; Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings

Where: National Museum & Art Gallery, Cardiff

When: Until 23/04/2017 Tuesday-Sunday 10-5

Admission: Free

About: An exhibition showing and explaining traditional Chinese flower and bird paintings from as far back as the 16th century. 

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What really stuck me about this exhibition was just how thought-out and thorough it was. It was evident from the moment I stepped through the double doors into the space that whoever was behind the curation of this exhibition had passion.

Far from being what most would expect of an exhibition of paintings – walking around a space, looking at pictures on a wall, this exhibition is about becoming part of something. As you step into the space you’re immersed in a culture. You’ll initially be greeted by an information board offering introductory information, behind it a Chinese room divider, with a table offering high quality colour exhibition leaflets.

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Not only are they informative, but also multilingual – another example of thoroughness, which is continued throughout the entire exhibition. Video/audio adds a whole other dimension and interest to the exhibition, with the sound of spoken Chinese and traditional instrumental music wafting through the space, accompanied by English and Welsh subtitles! This exhibition accommodates thoughtfully for their most likely visitors.

I was surprised by the size of the space too. However, the space wasn’t sparse nor jam-packed to the extent of feeling claustrophobic. Visitors could move around comfortably without bothering each other, but never be short of points of interest. A wooden bench in front of the projected video was a sensible touch, and again, a thoughtful one.

In addition to the large screen there was also a small video station situated in front of what I’d describe as an installation, showing a replica work room, displaying traditional-style furniture, paper scrolls, and tools such as brushes and holders (copies of which are available in the gift shop). This allows you to truly appreciate the process and situation in which the surrounding artwork was created, especially as the video demonstrates how the tools would have been used.

notsoIt’s hard to find fault with such a well thought-out and intriguing exhibition, however there was one aspect that I’m still on the fence about: the lighting. Whilst I can appreciate the intention behind the decision to include ambient lighting to create a certain serene atmosphere, I feel that by allowing the lighting to be a form of creativity in itself (there were also lighting effects – patterns on the floor resembling waves) it took focus away from the real beauty – the exquisite art. I feel that this should have been pared back a bit, and I personally felt I wanted to turn the lighting up to properly see the detail in each piece, though some may argue that the dim lighting reflected the delicacy of the work.

concludePersonally speaking, ‘Nature’s Song’ proved to be one of my favourite temporary exhibitions of the past few years, and has real substance to it. For art history fans, cultural studies students, and of course artists and art appreciators, this exhibition offers not only beautiful visual aspects, but also a peek into a whole way of life and working.

In regards to child-friendliness, I feel this exhibition is more for older children, who can appreciate the art as more than just a ‘painting on a wall’. This is an exhibition to take your time in contemplative silence around. With Easter half term around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to keep GCSE and A-level art students immersed (and hopefully inspired) for a while. I may just go back for a second look…

 

 

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